Walking into Gila River Resorts and Casino’s Lone Butte facility, the first thing that strikes you is the BetMGM-branded retail sportsbook that rises above the casino floor.
There’s no doubt the sportsbook, which opened to the public in November, is meant to take center stage for the longtime Valley casino operator — with 25 large-screen displays, 20 betting kiosks, and seating for more than 100 guests, interspersed with traditional blackjack tables and a wall-to-wall, full-service bar.
The Lone Butte BetMGM sportsbook, located just off Loop 202 in south Chandler, is one of three Gila River Resorts and Casinos has opened. There are also locations at Chandler’s Wild Horse Pass and Laveen’s Vee Quiva, all of which opened in November.
The Gila River Indian Community was not one of 10 Arizona tribes to receive an Arizona sports betting license from the Department of Gaming. But the tribe received rights to host retail sportsbook operations at its casinos thanks to signing onto the 2021 gaming compact.
Few people know the process that went into launching the glistening BetMGM facility like Lone Butte General Manager Blake Katsnelson, who oversaw the development from its inception in May through completion in November.
The longtime Gila River Resorts and Casinos employee told BetArizona.com the sportsbooks at Lone Butte, Vee Quiva, and Wild Horse Pass have been show-stoppers so far.
And coming next football season is the BetMGM retail sportsbook that’ll open outside of Glendale’s State Farm Stadium, home to the Arizona Cardinals — which Gila River Resorts and Casinos is helping to build via its partnership with BetMGM and the Cardinals.
“The facilities have definitely exceeded our expectations,” Katsnelson said. “In January alone, our three biggest days were the NFL Playoffs and UFC events. So, we show all the UFC fights at all our locations at no charge to any of our guests. They come in and get to watch that fight, or game, they can place their bets, they can eat, they can drink, and they can gamble here. And it gives them that full, one-stop shop to have fun.”
A Bit of Vegas in the Heart of the Valley
One of the key elements to Gila River’s retail sportsbook addition was the belief customers would clamor for amenities such as sports betting that previously were only available via a five-hour trek up US-93 to Las Vegas.
For Katsnelson, the addition of in-person wagering, in addition to table games like roulette, craps, and baccarat, gives Gila River an ace up their sleeve against its Sin City competitors.
“It’s the full Las Vegas experience now, so there’s no reason that our customers have to go to Vegas,” Katsnelson said. “You can do it all here now and it gives [customers] that complete experience. That was our goal with this whole thing, is just making sure that we can provide that and give our guests the experience that they want.”
Sportsbooks a Hit with Gila River’s Clientele
The early response from Gila River’s customers to the BetMGM sportsbooks has been overwhelmingly positive, with Katsnelson saying he’s heard countless patrons compliment the facilities and their ability to deliver a Vegas-level product to the Valley.
“They’re telling us that they don’t have to go to Vegas anymore, because they can do everything they want here,” Katsnelson said. “They’re telling us, ‘I’ve got five-star restaurants, I’ve got sports betting, and a great experience as well, as I can play my favorite table games and more.’”
The ability to see the Gila River sportsbooks go from concept to completion has been a highlight for Katsnelson, who was on the committee that helped build the facilities.
He said the committee’s ability to intersperse traditional sportsbook amenities, such as overstuffed Gary Platt reclining lounge chairs and bar top seating, with table games and other forms of entertainment, sets the facilities apart from their competitors.
“I had my thumb on the pulse of the whole thing, so it was fun for me to be a part of it and build, not a ‘traditional’ sportsbook, which consists of a bunch of chairs with tables and everyone watching big screens,” Katsnelson said. “We wanted to build something exciting, something where the guests could intermix table games and sports betting — so we’ve got blackjack tables here at Lone Butte; we’ve got Top Golf over at Wild Horse Pass.
“So, it’s not a standard, ‘old-fashioned’ sportsbook. And I think that’s kind of where I would hang my hat on, is that these facilities are just one more way that we’re able to add to our properties, and it’s another thing that the guests can get excited about.”
Gila River’s Super Bowl Sunday Promotions
The biggest betting weekend for Arizona sports betting apps is coming up, and the three facilities will host “Super Sunday Giveaway” promotions during Super Bowl LVI between Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Rams.
There will be hourly drawings for sports memorabilia prizes between 3 p.m. and 8 on Sunday, which should add to a historic weekend according to Katsnelson.
“The NFL Playoffs leading up to the Super Bowl really shed a light on the last three weeks,” he said. “The sportsbooks at all three of our properties have been full during each of the games. We’ve had tremendous performance on what the sports betting revenue has been. So, I would expect a similar type of experience on Super Bowl Sunday.”